DOHA, Qatar -- Unless the bloodshed in Syria stops, the region could descend into a chaotic sectarian conflict, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday as he called for an urgent political resolution to the war that has dragged on for two years and claimed 93,000 lives.
The top U.S. diplomat and his counterparts from 10 Arab and European nations agreed at a daylong meeting in Qatar to step up military and other assistance to the Syrian rebels. But Kerry would not disclose details of the aid, saying only that it would rebalance the fight between the rebels and President Bashar Assad's better-equipped forces that are increasingly backed by Iranian and Hezbollah fighters.
"The continued bloodshed at the hands of the Assad regime and the increasing involvement of Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, threaten the very prospects of a political settlement and of peace," Kerry said, adding that the United States and other nations are not backing the rebels to seek a military victory in Syria. "We do so to . . . find a political settlement."
Rebels say they have already received new weapons from allied countries -- but not the United States -- that they claim will help them to shift the balance of power on the ground where regime forces have scored recent military victories. Experts and activists said the new weapons include anti-tank missiles and small quantities of anti-aircraft missiles.
Doha was the first stop on Kerry's two-week trip through the Middle East and Asia. He is to discuss a wide range of bilateral issues on Sunday and Monday with Indian officials in New Delhi -- one stop on a seven-nation tour where he will tackle prickly U.S. foreign policy issues -- from finding peace between the Israelis and Palestinians to trying to gain traction on U.S. talks with the Taliban to end the Afghanistan War.
James Dobbins, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, arrived in Doha on Saturday, but talks with the Taliban, which were supposed to take place in coming days, have not been scheduled. They are to be held at a controversial new political office the Taliban opened in Doha.
Meanwhile on Saturday, Syrian government forces stepped up their attack against rebel strongholds north of the capital, Damascus, while opposition fighters declared their own offensive in the country's largest city, Aleppo.
The fighting in Damascus came as the Syrian government announced salary increases for state employees and members of the military, days after the Syrian currency dipped to a record low of 210 pounds to the dollar compared with 47 when the crisis began more than two years ago.The raise also covered pensions.